On the Riviera in the south of France, Vence has been popular with artists for more than a century. Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Marc Chagall are just a few of the painters who have visited this picturesque town.
So much so, that there is now a museum exhibiting the work of artists associated with the town. Zia Mirabdolbaghi, the curator of the museum at the Chateau de Villeneuve, explained why the town was such a magnet for artists: “They came here to find that essential intimacy, that proximity with people and the environment. Here you have small neighbourhoods, small shops. Life is very human here. What Matisse found in Villa le Reve and its surroundings was the atmosphere – and strangely enough, but this is what he said – the atmosphere here is a bit like Tahiti. You see young women cycling into town, you have wonderful smells and vegetation. You know, Matisse was a very botanical painter.”
Villa Le Reve, the Dream Villa, was home to Matisse for five years, after he visited in 1943. He is said to have designed the Rosaire Chapel, more often called the Matisse Chapel including the interior and the stained glass windows. It opened in 1951.
The Villa le Reve is now an arts centre offering a range of courses and residencies to all sorts of artists.
Francois Franta, a sculptor and painter, comes to Vence for inspiration: “I was born twice. I was born in Czechoslovakia and the second time in Vence, 55 years ago. At that time there were a lot of artists, there were still traces of Matisse, Chagall. I had the opportunity to meet Picasso. Dubuffet was here too, and Dufy before him.”
Turid Seljestad, a painter from Oslo, explained the attraction: “I can see why they are attracted to the area because, when you come here it is something about the light; that is very special. In other words, I just feel at home.”